Sunday, June 12th, 2011 1:00 PM
Parsons Dance sizzles in tale of tragic love set to rock versions of opera hits
By Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer
David Parsons makes it extremely hard for a dance audience to forget "Remember Me," his hour-long tale of sex, jealousy, love and – what else? – death set to rock versions of immortal opera excerpts.
You can't take your eyes off the fever-pitched choreography – or Parsons' marvelous dancers more › – even when your ears need a rest from hyper-activated Puccini, Bizet and friends.
Parsons Dance brought "Remember Me" to the Ohio Theatre on Saturday as part of a program presented by DanceCleveland and Opera Cleveland. Like that apt collaboration, the New York dance company teamed with a Manhattan neighbor, East Village Opera Company, to devise this sizzling mix of sensuous physicality and hip musical arrangements.
The piece compels opera lovers to leave prejudices at the door, if possible, and give in to 21st-century transformation. Parsons knows a great opera tune when he hears one, and he also knows how to create striking images out of (mostly) foreign texts.
The slight narrative that propels "Remember Me" – whose title is a line in Dido's beloved aria, "When I Am Laid in Earth," from Purcell's "Dido and Aeneas" – was woven together by Parsons and the two lead singers from East Village Opera Company, Tyley Ross and AnnMarie Milazzo.
The work tells of two men (danced by Eric Bourne and Miguel Quinones) vying for the affection of a fetching woman (Sarah Braverman), who chooses the former, only to be imprisoned by the latter. It isn't betraying the gods of opera to reveal that all of the characters are dead at the end.
And then sent to heaven. Parsons tacks on a dreamy epilogue that finds the cast vibrating to a newfangled variation on the Act 1 love duet from "Madama Butterfly" while the onstage singers assure us that "love is everything."
Actually, the dance is virtually everything in "Remember Me." Parsons' movement language is a seamless blend of fluidity and angularity fueled by intricate arm patterns and arresting interactions.
Even when the meaning of the words is tweaked to suit the dramatic contexts, Parsons provides intense emotional underpinning through quicksilver nuances and surprising physical and visual twists. Inspired by the music, the projections accompanying each scene add colorful dabs of passion and atmosphere.
Braverman, Bourne and Quinones thrust themselves into their roles with tireless vigor and expressivity, and their colleagues were ultra-dynamic. Milazzo – who wrote the vocal arrangements for "Next to Normal," the musical two theaters away in PlayhouseSquare – and Michael K. Lee sang the opera arrangements with powerful and poetic panache.
Quinones opened the night with an early Parsons work, "Caught," a magical feat of dance and theatricality that uses strobe lights to give the impression the performer is suspended in air. It's a piece that requires perfect timing for the intended dazzlement to be achieved. Thanks to Quinones' buoyant virtuosity and bull's-eye lighting cues, the intended occurred.
RELATED COMPANY: Parsons Dance and East Village Opera Company
Sunday, May 15th, 2011 1:00 PM
Two dance companies will make their local debuts and an array of dance styles is set to inhabit Northeast Ohio stages during DanceCleveland's 2011-12 season -- its 55th.
Six companies from the United States and abroad will perform at Blossom Music Center, E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron and the Ohio and State theaters in PlayhouseSquare under the auspices of the Cleveland presenting organization.
To accommodate dance-goers young and older, DanceCleveland more › is adding matinees to three of the engagements.
The series will begin with the third annual Blossom collaboration of the Joffrey Ballet, which is based in Chicago, and the Cleveland Orchestra, led by Tito Munoz.
The performances Saturday, Aug. 20, and Sunday, Aug. 21, will include George Balanchine's "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" and "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux," and Christopher Wheeldon's "After the Rain," set to music by Arvo P rt. DanceCleveland subscribers may add Joffrey performances to their season subscriptions.
Momix, the popular company of dancer-illusionists directed by Moses Pendleton, will appear Saturday, Oct. 1, at Thomas Hall in the fifth year of a collaboration between the hall, DanceCleveland and the University of Akron. The company will perform Pendleton's "Botanica," a full-length work about the seasons with costumes, projections and props by award-winning designer Michael Curry.
New York-based Aszure Barton and Artists will make their Cleveland debut Saturday, Oct. 29, at the Ohio Theatre with a program featuring Canadian-born artistic director Barton's "Busk," a look at street performers set to Gypsy and choral music.
Another acclaimed debuting troupe, Israel's Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company, will appear Saturday, Jan. 28, and Sunday, Jan. 29, at the Ohio Theatre.
The company's 12 dancer-actors will perform "Oyster," a full-length work combining Fellini-esque imagery and the influence of Pina Bausch in a narrative blend of ballet, contemporary dance, mime and acrobatics. The score is a stew of genres and styles, from opera ("I Pagliacci") and tango (Piazzolla) to Harry James, Yma Sumac and Tuvan throat singers.
Ballet Memphis, a 19-member company celebrating its 25th season, will give performances Saturday, March 10, and Sunday, March 11, at the Ohio Theatre. On the program will be Trey McIntyre's "In Dreams," set to music by Roy Orbison; Jane Comfort's "S'epanouir,"with music by Kirk Whalum; Steven McMahon's "Being Here," danced to Beethoven's Violin Concerto; and Julia Adams' "Curtain of Green," based on the story by Eudora Welty.
The season will end Friday, May 4, through Sunday, May 6, with three performances at the State Theatre by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, which next season welcomes a new artistic director, Robert Battle. The company last performed in Cleveland in 2009.
Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011 12:00 PM
Parsons Dance with the East Village Opera Company Come to PlayhouseSquare for the Finale of DANCECleveland's Season
Parsons Dance with the East Village Opera Company
Come to PlayhouseSquare for the Finale of DANCECleveland's Season
"Athletic, entertaining and mesmerizing" – The New York Times
CLEVELAND (April 29, 2011) – DANCECleveland will bring its 2010-11 season to a close with a showbiz-savvy performance by Parsons Dance featuring music and lead vocalists of the East Village Opera Company, co-presented with Opera Cleveland, on Saturday, June 11 at 8:00pm at the Ohio Theatre in more › PlayhouseSquare.
Tickets starting at $25 can be purchased by calling at 216-241-6000 or online at www.playhousesquare.org.
The evening will feature Remember Me, choreographed and directed by David Parsons. A high-energy mix of contemporary American dance, opera and rock music, Remember Me combines the athleticism of Parsons Dance with exhilarating live performances from the lead vocalists of the Grammy-nominated rock opera band, East Village Opera Company. The work features costumes by Project Runway designer Austin Scarlett and dramatic lighting by Tony Award-winner Howell Binkley.
Remember Me creates a storyline that connects EVOC's signature operatic arias with Parsons' original choreography resulting in a thoroughly modern re-telling of a classic story of tragic love. The Washington Post says "Parsons gorgeous, daredevil dancers keep people gaping."
Also on the bill is Parsons' signature masterwork, Caught, an unforgettable stroboscopic tour-de-force, featuring a solo dancer defying gravity and flying above the stage. It has been performed hundreds of times, worldwide, for more than 28 years.
Parsons, who has enjoyed a remarkable career as a performer, dancemaker, director and producer of dance, has created more than 70 works for his company. In 2007, he was the first contemporary choreographer to stage work at the centuries-old Arena di Verona (Italy), where he choreographed Verdi's Aida. Parsons previously was a lead dancer with The Paul Taylor Dance Company, where Taylor created many roles for him in works such as Arden Court, Last Look and Roses.
Since 1985, Parsons Dance has toured some 32 weeks each year at prestigious theaters and festivals around the world. It is the only dance company in history to perform at all three Spoleto Festivals – Italy, Australia and the U.S. – in a single year. Many have seen Parsons Dance on PBS, Bravo, A&E Network and the Discovery Channel, and millions watched the company perform live in Times Square as part of the internationally broadcast, 24-hour Millennium New Year's Eve celebration.
"Parosns is one of modern dance's great living dance-makers." – New York Magazine
Wednesday, April 20th, 2011 12:00 PM
In Ravel's Bolero a small body of musical material is repeated over and over again with growing intensity until it reaches a shattering climax. Widely considered the outstanding example of musical crescendo, Bolero as musical background to dance can render the most mundane choreographic process gripping; the challenge to the choreographer is to find dance metaphors that bear multiple repetitions and match Bolero's growing intensity without overtaxing the dancers.
One week more › ago Saturday we went to see the modern dance company of Pascal Rioult (pronounced rhee YOU). We had seen several Rioult pieces performed via the Case dance program – Rioult's Bolero, nicely staged on Case dance program students in 2003, and in 2007 Case students performed Wien, another of Rioult's pieces. Both works were on the Saturday program. As a result, we felt that we had a good idea of what to expect.
If our previous experience of Rioult showed him embracing the challenge of musical repetition but finding engaging choreographic possibilities, another piece on Saturday's program saw him going further down that same path with more mixed success.
Saturday's concert opened with Rioult's Views of the Fleeting World (2008), a work for eight dancers set in nine sections to J. S. Bach's Art of the Fugue (as arranged for chamber orchestra by Wolfgang Graeser in 1927). In addition to Art of the Fugue - which we nominate as Bach's least danceable piece - each of the nine sections was accompanied by sounds from nature and beautiful projections. Wind sounds preceding section 2 suggested the section's title, "Gathering Storm;" the sound of peepers suggested a rural wetland at "Dusk;" rain sounds suggested a "Sudden Rain."
These programmatic clues notwithstanding, Views made for heavy going (don't take our word for it; go to RioultVideo and see for yourself.) For us, it was not until the fifth section, "Sudden Rain," that dancer Jane Sato brought the stage to life. She convincingly "slipped and fell on the rain-washed ground," then alternated quick aerial movements with supple lunges in a solo that kept us watching.
In the seventh section, "Summer Wind," cicada sounds and warm, bright colors on the backdrop suggested a summer day. Dancers Charis Haines and Jere Hunt created considerable erotic heat using dynamic reclining versions of the same movement vocabulary we'd been yawning through in earlier sections. Penelope Gonzalez and Brian Flynn achieved much the same effect in "Moonlight."
If we felt Views presented many attractive elements that were often dragged down by their music, the second piece on Saturday's program, Wien (1995), provided an electrifying demonstration of Rioult's ability to illuminate a musical score.
Wien is set to Ravel's La valse, a piece which Vic's younger self had mistakenly dismissed after a few listenings. "Why those ominous undertones? Why does the composer refuse to delight us in this piece?" But, as Rioult's program notes point out, La valse comes with a potent back-story.
To wit: Ravel began work on La valse, originally titled "Wien" or "Vienna," in 1906 as a tribute to Johann Strauss Jr., seeing the Viennese waltz as a metaphor for "the fantastic whirl of destiny." But by the time the piece was finished in 1920, the post-WWI connotations of "destiny" had taken on a decidedly bitter tone, particularly in Vienna, where famine and epidemic reigned.
Accordingly, in the completed version of La valse, Ravel achieved what program notes for Chicago Symphony Orchestra describe as "a masterful evocation of the evasions and collisions between a brilliant surface and dangerous undercurrents." Intentionally or not, the composer had created in La valse a perfect musical metaphor for the socio-political situation in Vienna in 1920, and that is, in an abstracted way, the subject of Rioult's Wien.
Like Ravel, Rioult introduced a few core phrases, a rather small body of movement material, and reworked it throughout the ballet. As in a traditional waltz, the dancers periodically circled the floor, but the smooth progress of the circle was punctuated by dancers falling and body smacking into the ground. The dancers periodically held each other in a traditional ballroom embrace, but the embrace was interrupted by vicious assaults - head-butting and strangle holds. Grandiose poses with the arms held high were punctuated by ugly grappling. Late in Wien, a congruence of bright music and lighting was quickly undercut by starkly front-lit figures casting shadows on the cyclorama, as if a momentary euphoria were followed by crushing disillusion.
Thus, in Wien we see, as Rioult says in a program note, "The Viennese waltz, the very image of social refinement, becomes the symbol of a disintegrating society taken into a whirlpool of violence and humiliation." Or, as Jack Anderson said in a 1/19/95 review (ReView) that segued into high praise, "Wien showed a whole urban class system falling apart; this was choreography on a grand scale, yet he used only six dancers."
Strong stuff. Wien ended to loud, whooping applause, as though the collective audience were all saying "that's more like it."
Rioult's Bolero (2002) is not as strong as Wien, but it inevitably appeared last in Saturday's program. Here, as in Wien, the choreographer's plan closely resembled that of the composer, taking a small body of choreographic material and finding interesting ways to repeat it. Many of the movements and movement patterns we'd seen in Views and Wien occurred again in Bolero, but with a totally different effect.
Bolero began with seven of the eight dancers engaged in quick, mechanical arm movements while the 8th dancer typically engaged in flowing, sustained extensions of the legs and trunk. The dancers periodically circled the stage, often dancing around one or two dancers in the center.
It is perhaps inevitable for Cleveland audiences to compare any danced version of Bolero with Heinz Poll's Bolero. Many of us old timers remember Ohio Ballet dancing that, while more recently it has been performed by Verb Ballets. We have a great affection for Poll's mesmerizing choreographic economy, and cannot help but compare the two versions, though that is as if comparing apples to oranges.
Our impression is that Rioult stays closer to Ravel's original mechanical inspiration, but that Poll's imaginative costuming and choreographic choices take the viewer on a more fascinating journey. Movement in Poll's Bolero is limited and controlled while Rioult's movement choices are freer while retaining rhythmic precision.
The backdrop for Rioult's Bolero, credited to Harry Feiner, depicted repetitive architectural forms. During the crescendo, the brown and black wash was suddenly highlighted in red.
The company's website, http://Rioult.org, lists 13 other pieces by Rioult. We hope to see more of that work, performed either by the Rioult dancers or restaged at Case.
Victor Lucas and Elsa Johnson
RELATED COMPANY: RIOULT
Monday, April 4th, 2011 12:00 PM
From the moment the music begins its ominous rumble and six dancers move in fits and starts, "Wien" signals that Rioult is a choreographer with an eye for striking imagery. Virtually everything about this creation is unsettling, from the Kafka-esque aura, vividly transformed by lighting designer David Finley, to the spasmodic intermingling of bodies in a whirlpool of desolation.
The dancers are dressed in Russ Vogler's middle-class European attire, placing them more › in the nexus of world conflagration. They're clearly on the edge of sanity as they move in circular chains, cling to one another or collapse to the floor in momentary anguish.
As they're swept along Ravel's tidal wave of waltzing menace, the cast reveals the limber and urgent strength that is a hallmark of the company. "Wien" packs an emotional wallop partly because the dancers have such command both of technical resources and expressive power.
The program continued after a pause with "Bolero," Ravel's most famous and hypnotic score, with its haunting theme that does nothing but increase in volume and orchestral texture. Rioult illuminates the music using eight dancers, dressed in sleek white, who execute robotic gestures in canonic patterns.
As the instruments in Ravel's score bring distinctive personality to the theme, each dancer has a solo moment of unfolding balances and elegant sensuality. Rioult builds an intriguing mosaic – set before Harry Feiner's Cubist backdrop – that never falls into the trap of physical monotony.
The cast, including many of the dancers who had thrust themselves into the pained world of "Wien," gave "Bolero" a performance of mesmerizing and concentrated vibrancy. In solo, duo and ensemble episodes, they were alert to every crisp or elastic choreographic demand.
Another side of Rioult was on display in the program's opening work, "Views of the Fleet World," set to selections from Bach's "The Art of the Fugue" (arranged for string orchestra). In nine sections, the piece suggests varied states of nature, employing abstract painted projections (by Feiner) and sounds of thunder, wind and rain to underline the basic themes.
But the dance is the thing. Even without the effects, which add little, Riout's responses to Bach are keenly sensitive to phrasing and structure. The creative inspiration is buoyant, shapely and often intricate in design, reflecting Bach's contrapuntal mastery.
One movement stands out. In "Moonlight," two dancers lie on the stage reaching upward and toward one another in romantic reverie. Like their colleagues throughout the night, Penelope Gonzalez and Brian Flynn were luminous champions of their artistic director's discerning vision.
RELATED COMPANY: RIOULT